Safe and Effective? A Consumer’s Guide to Natural Health Products

How far have we come from the Patent Medicine era?

The following is a summary of my Skepticamp Toronto 2010 presentation. Apologies to international readers for the Canadian-centric content.

I’ve been practicing pharmacy for over 15 years, and it didn’t take me long to realize after I started working that there was a completely different standard for safety and efficacy for herbal preparations and other supplements. That is, they were largely unregulated. Compared to Health Canada’s internationally-respected approval process for drug products, there was no process in place to regulate the supplement marketplace. To ensure consumers fully understood the potential risks of these products, I started to give two warnings to anyone that asked for my advice about these products:

Compared to drugs, there is little regulation of herbal products. Variation could exist between what it says on the label and what it actually contains.

And if they had any medical conditions, or were taking other drugs or supplements I would add:

Compared to prescription and over-the-counter drugs, the information we have on these products is limited. They could have the potential to interact with other medications and medical conditions that we are not aware of.

Until just a few years ago, Canada’s regulatory framework was not equipped to deal with non-drug supplements. Products were either drugs, and were registered as such, or they were food products, and drug regulatory requirements did not apply. A grey area existed and and all kinds of supplements appeared – with no specific regulatory oversight, no defined quality or content standards, and no objective evaluation of the efficacy claims. Continue reading

Time for some #vaxfax

Anti-vaccine advocates have declared November 1-6 to be Vaccine Awareness Week, and intend to use the week to spread unfounded fear about vaccines. Here in Canada, we already had our own Immunization Awareness Week, but I’ll happily take up the antivax challenge. I’ll be joining other science advocates to counter-detail the fearmongering and outright misinformation that usually erupts from those indifferent to public health. Here’s an excerpt of the release from Mercola and the National Vaccine Information Center:

In a long-scheduled joint effort to raise public awareness about important vaccination issues during the week of November 1-6, 2010, and NVIC will publish a series of articles and interviews on vaccine topics of interest to newsletter subscribers and NVIC Vaccine E-newsletter readers.

The week-long public awareness program will also raise funds for NVIC, a non-profit charity that has been working for more than two decades to prevent vaccine injuries and deaths through public education and protecting informed consent to vaccination.

The November 1-6 Vaccine Awareness Week hosted by and NVIC will follow a month-long vaccine awareness effort in October that was recently announced on Facebook by parents highlighting Gardasil vaccine risks.

The six-week-long focus this fall on vaccine issues will help raise the consciousness of many more Americans, who may be unaware that they can take an active role in helping to prevent vaccine injuries and deaths and defend the legal right to make voluntary vaccination choices.

Keep an eye on Science-Based Medicine and Skeptic North for more details and blog posts. An aggregator will be set up to collate articles, and I’ll link to it once it’s online. On Twitter, you can follow discussions with the #vaxfax tag. And if you want to get started, PalMD has is responding to an article that attributes infertility to vaccines.

Part Fills for October 6

Another set of links and articles of interest to SBP readers…

The board of NHS Highland has agreed to end future support for homeopathic treatments for its patients. Which is a science-based decision. Unfortunately, some homeopaths are telling patients that homeopathy can replace the MMR vaccine. And no, this doesn’t seem restricted to the United Kingdom – homeopathic vaccinations seem to be readily available in Canada, too.

Homeopathy for insomnia: A systematic review of research evidence. No surprise, there’s no evidence to suggest any meaningful effects.

Contrary to what CTV says, acupuncture’s effects haven’t been shown to be anything more than placebo effects. So there’s no persuasive evidence to suggest that acupucture provides any meaningful benefit to cancer patients.

Pharmacy Practice
Parents, Relax. Don’t Keep Them From School. It’s Just Lice, says the New York Times. See my prior blog posts on lice here and here. Contrary to what school boards may tell you, school-wide screening doesn’t help, and no-nit policies are not evidence-based.

Dextromethorphan (DM) abuse: An FDA advisory committee has decided that over-the-counter cough syrups don’t need tighter distribution restrictions that would classify them as controlled substances, despite continuing signs that the meds are regularly abused. No similar announcement from Health Canada, yet.

All those aromatase inhibitor prescriptions you’re filling for body builders? No, it isn’t breast cancer.

Other Alt-Health
It might surprise you, but drinking industrial bleach isn’t a smart weight-loss strategy.

Regulate the provision of nonsense, you still get nonsense. Interesting post on licensing alternative health practitioners.

Fake disease alert! The Endocrine Society is warning people that “adrenal fatigue” and “Wilson’s temperature syndrome” are not actually real medical conditions.

From Skeptic North
Curious what’s in the homeopathic remedy “Vagininum”?
My post about pseudoscience at the running expo.
British Columbians are Paying for Acupuncture …and Who Knows What Else.
Reviews of two fantastic books: Risk by Dan Gardner and The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan.

From Science-Based Medicine

Confronting Pseudoscience. James Randi, Dr. Ben Goldacre, Dr. Michael Shermer, and Dr. David Gorski. October 18/19 in Montreal. Looks like a fantastic program.
Chiropractic Vertebral Subluxations: Science vs. Pseudoscience
The mammography wars heat up again
Using attacks on science by the anti-vaccine movement as a “teachable moment”
Aspartame – Truth vs Fiction
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Lots of Speculation
Skepticamps invade the Great White North on October 23. Free events in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Toronto.